In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Acts of the Apostles

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • General Overviews
  • Text of Acts
  • Annotated Study Bibles
  • Reference Resources
  • Bibliographies
  • Essay Collections
  • Textual Tradition
  • Date and Purpose
  • Acts and History
  • Genre
  • Unity of Luke-Acts
  • Reception
  • Luke and Paul
  • Luke and Judaism

Biblical Studies Acts of the Apostles
Christopher R. Matthews
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0001


The Acts of the Apostles is the second New Testament work composed by the individual responsible for the Gospel of Luke. It recounts the story of the genesis and spread of the early church, from the ascension of Jesus to the arrival of Paul in Rome. The title, which is not original, is misleading insofar as the book provides little information about the particular activities of the twelve apostles (apart from Peter). Since both the Gospel and Acts were originally anonymous books, the conclusion that the author was the “Luke” mentioned in certain letters of Paul (Philem. 24; Col. 4.14; 2 Tim. 4.11) seems to have been a deduction of early Christian tradition. While some continue to find this traditional assessment valid, most critical scholars employ the name “Luke” for the author with no assumption that this person at some time had been an actual associate of Paul. While it is now hackneyed to refer to Acts as a “storm center” in New Testament research, this notion is still valid given the rather conflicting interpretations that emerge depending on how one answers a series of disputed questions principally regarding the authorship, date, genre, and historicity of the book.

Introductory Works

More detailed introductory surveys may be found in any of the numerous introductions to the New Testament as a whole, which will include a chapter on Acts or Luke-Acts. With the exception of Shillington 2007, the examples in this section are all used as standard texts for introductory courses on the New Testament. Ehrman 2008 is widely used and is particularly well suited for undergraduate use, while Holladay 2005 and Johnson 2010 may prove more satisfying for students pursuing theological studies. Brown 1997 and Koester 2000 are better choices for graduate students. V. George Shillington’s introduction is completely devoted to Luke-Acts.

  • Brown, Raymond E. An Introduction to the New Testament. Anchor Bible Reference Library. New York: Doubleday, 1997.

    Includes an extended summary of the content of Acts (pp. 279–316), addresses several important introductory issues (pp. 316–331), and provides a two-page bibliography (pp. 331–332).

  • Ehrman, Bart D. The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. 4th ed. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

    Illustrates a thematic approach to the opening scene (1:1–11) and the speeches of the main characters of Acts (pp. 141–162) to identify the distinctive emphases of the narrative.

  • Holladay, Carl R. A Critical Introduction to the New Testament: Interpreting the Message and Meaning of Jesus Christ. Nashville: Abingdon, 2005.

    Coverage of Acts (pp. 225–260) includes treatment of Luke’s motivations for writing it, his sources and strategy, his theological vision, and the Lukan Paul. A companion CD-ROM includes the full text as well as additional study resources.

  • Johnson, Luke Timothy. The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation. 3d ed. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2010.

    Luke-Acts is treated on pp. 187–225; Johnson exemplifies a literary approach and highlights Luke’s use of prophecy as a structural device. A three-page bibliography is included on pp. 223–225.

  • Koester, Helmut. Introduction to the New Testament. Vol. 2, History and Literature of Early Christianity. 2d ed. Berlin and New York: de Gruyter, 2000.

    This introduction is better suited for advanced students who can measure its proposals against standard treatments and better integrate the historical, religious, and cultural data presented here into an overall approach to the New Testament documents.

  • Shillington, V. George. An Introduction to the Study of Luke-Acts. T&T Clark Approaches to Biblical Studies. London: T&T Clark, 2007.

    A very serviceable guide for students that displays an exemplary mix of standard introductory information in tandem with innovative approaches to the interpretation of the Lukan works.

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